- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2020

When Washington picked Dwayne Haskins, a hometown favorite of team owner Dan Snyder, at No. 15 in the 2019 NFL draft, the then-21-year-old had a defiant message for the franchises that had taken others ahead of him, telling cameras the league had “done messed up.”

Not quite two years later, it seems more likely the biggest mistake made that night was with the team that chose the Ohio State star — not those that passed.

Haskins’ tumultuous journey with Washington came to a stunning end Monday when the team released the former first-rounder — cutting ties with the quarterback one day after he was benched in a 20-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

The move marked the end of a rocky tenure during which Haskins struggled on the field and created controversy off it, most recently when he was caught partying without a mask last week in violation of COVID-19 protocols.
The team released Haskins despite facing a do-or-die game on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles that will determine whether Washington makes the playoffs.

The unceremonious release of a prospect once considered the future of the franchise marks a spectacular fall from grace for the quarterback, now 23, and puts him in rare and ignominious NFL company.

Since 1990, of the 80 quarterbacks selected in the first round, only eight besides Haskins were traded or cut before their third year, not including draft day trades — a list that includes such flameouts as Cade McNown, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel.

Of that group, Haskins is the only one to have been cut during an actual season.

Washington will occur an $8.5 million cap hit next year for releasing Haskins. But in a statement, coach Ron Rivera said he believed a split was best for both sides.

“Sometimes you have to go through hard knocks,” Rivera told reporters Monday, hours before he cut Haskins. “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can dig your way back out of it. Sometimes a change helps. With Dwayne, it’s: What have you learned? … That’s the big thing with him.”

Haskins’ inability to learn from mistakes was perhaps the biggest contributing factor to his downfall in Washington. When Haskins was fined $40,000 last week for partying indoors without a mask, the punishment accounted for his second violation of the league’s COVID-19 protocols. In October, he was caught trying to book a room for a family friend at the team hotel.

The lack of growth was especially evident in games. Haskins repeatedly turned the ball over and missed wide-open receivers, which led to his first benching in October. In 16 career games with Washington, he threw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (12) and went 3-10 as a starter.

From the jump, there were concerns about Haskins. On draft night, reports emerged that Washington’s coaching staff was adamantly against the owner’s preference for Haskins, who’d played his high school ball at the Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland — a school Mr. Snyder’s son had attended. The coaching staff believed Haskins, a one-year starter with the Buckeyes, was too raw.

The pre-draft tension set the stage for an awkward rookie season. Haskins lost a training camp battle to become the starter and sat for weeks while questions about his work ethic percolated. When Haskins finally got to start, he didn’t help matters as he struggled mightily through his first few games.

There were other confounding moments that raised concerns related to Haskins’ maturity. Most famously, he missed the final snap of his first career win as he was caught taking a selfie with a fan in attendance. But there were other smaller instances that fueled speculation, such as when cameras caught the offensive line looking disinterested when Haskins was addressing them on the sideline or when he downplayed his social media usage, only to post frequently.

When Rivera was introduced in January, he made it clear that Haskins had to become a better leader. Over the next few months, Haskins drew praise for arranging offseason workouts with teammates and at the end of camp, they voted him captain.

But following a 1-3 start, Haskins was benched after he failed to show enough progress. Haskins’ preparation again became the focus, with coaches speaking openly about how the quarterback needed to learn how to properly prepare for an NFL game. After he was initially benched, Haskins missed multiple practices with an illness and unfollowed Rivera on Twitter.

Haskins got another shot in December when starter Alex Smith went down with a calf injury. The quarterback, though, squandered the opportunity by partying after a loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Haskins, who was stripped of his captaincy, apologized profusely but drew sharp criticism around the league for the incident.

“The NFL is very impatient,” Hall of Fame defensive end and NFL analyst Michael Strahan said on Fox. “They don’t have time to babysit. They will not babysit a grown man. … One day, you’re going to find yourself sitting on the couch. You’re going to be in your mid-20s, late 20s, and you’re going to regret not doing what you needed to do to be the best that you can be at something you’re so talented at.”

Sunday was the final straw. After getting another chance to start, Haskins couldn’t deliver. He threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and completed just 50% of his passes before being pulled in the fourth quarter. Rivera said he didn’t think the maskless partying controversy affected the quarterback’s performance but the coach lamented the missed opportunities on the field.
Rivera’s decision to cut Haskins is his boldest move yet as Washington’s coach. The release came despite the uncertainty of Smith’s status for Sunday. Washington is optimistic the 36-year-old can play, but if not, Washington would then turn to Taylor Heinicke, an Old Dominion alum who replaced Haskins in the fourth.

In the meantime, Haskins will go on waivers. A team has until Tuesday to claim the two years left on Haskins’ contract.

“My time with the WFT has unfortunately come to an end,” Haskins tweeted Monday. “I thank the team (and) fans for the opportunity to play for the team I grew up rooting for. I take full responsibility for not meeting the standards of a NFL QB (and) will become a better man (and) player because of this experience.”

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